Teach: Table Service

by | Sep 2, 2019 | Klog | 0 comments

Teach the Pattern

Successful Table Service is about building the dog’s confidence that they are free to collect the treat and recognise the signal for collection. Using the analogy of table service, we all know that just because food is place, we do not necessarily dive in, grab or tip the whole cake on our plate.

When I am training I always want to be clear to the dog the difference between:

when they are welcome to collect a treat, and

when the treat is not (yet) theirs.

My hands have a distinct cue that offers a treat, it is open palmed, very similar to “pony hand”, and if the hand is resting at my side, semi-closed then the treat is not available (yet).

This understanding starts from the beginning of using food as a reward. The whole process can become complicated quickly if we are not clear about the signals. The dogs mis-understand and begin the mug hands for the reserves or grab at the fingers during delivery.

Our hands play several roles for the dogs from stroking them for pleasure, removing unwanted vegetation, holding them still whilst attaching equipment and offering food. This is quite a lot to learn when you live with unpredictable people, but at least I am not prone to hand gestures when having a conversation as well. .

You can see on this video a couple of weeks after Zip arrived that she is “learning” my hands. The difference between hands that cue a behaviour (in this case “butt” for sitting) and hands that feed, when she can come towards the hand to collect, and hands that will delivery (Breakfast in Bed) and she can stay where she is. 

If there is confusion about this is can cause hesitation which is not a desired elements when we are trying to learn. Hesitation often indicates uncertainty or confusion.

If your dog is not sure about approaching hands for food, include a cue that lets them know they can release from their position, and take the food. You may need to include a step backwards in invitation at the same time. You can also use a food bowl as a clear signal for the dog to collect.

This brings up the question about whether a marker is a cue to release or not. You will need to make your own decision and decide the value of the protocol for your future training.

For me, the marker is a cue to orientate to me, and what I cue next gives the dog information about releasing, moving or staying in position.


Table service is ideal for separating the collection of the food from the source of the food, but without needing to much energy.

I may teach the dog to move a short distance back to the heel position by placing the food just in front or behind the dog. My precise placement (at the table) ensure the learning can be finely sliced, and I can increase the criteria by adjusting this placement.

I would also teach precise movements between the stand, down, sit, bow, lie flat positioning.


Setting up the training area and environment before we begin any training, or learning, or teaching will be an important habit to develop. What may not be relevant to us may be very relevant to the dog If we have not gone through the “pre-flight” check a disruption can take our training off track.  To achieve good quality experience for both teacher and learner no additional stresses should be present, this includes a video camera  (until you have learned to regard it as a friend!)


Always have a plan

Observe movement before training

Spot the ideal location

Mark the return to position

Increase criteria by gradual change of location

Knowledge & Understanding

Skills &


Application & Activities


Getting tired will reduce the quality of the learning, and the ability to remember what you are doing.

The same applies to the dog. Mental fatigue will be evident when there is an increase in errors, which is why we should never try to suppress mistakes. They are a good indicator of fatigue or confusion.

Sometimes the session needs to end, or a short rest of 2-3 minutes or a change in activity.

When using a computer, the recommendation to keep the quality and quantity of work at the optimum, is a change in visual activity every 20 minutes and a complete walk away every hour.

It would be really useful to add your own training tips, the one key point that you found useful, things you would never go without …. so please use the comment box.

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